Emerson Spartz on creating viral content to grow your business

Emerson Spartz is the founder and CEO of Chicago-based Spartz Media, the company behind Gives Me Hope and OMG Facts. If you haven’t heard of Spartz: he started MuggleNet, the #1 Harry Potter fan site, when he was only 12 years old. 

Spartz shared his tips for creating viral content, maximizing your presence on social networks and growing your business by learning from your competitors as part of Social Media Week

Here are seven tips we picked up from Spartz:

1. Adapt successful ideas from other industries
When developing MuggleNet, Spartz consistently visited other fandom communities and observed what they were doing. He began to pluck all their best ideas, adapting them to fit his site. “All the other Harry Potter sites would rip off MuggleNet, so MuggleNet got the reputation for being the most innovative Harry Potter site. This is a good metaphor for describing how innovation actually works in the real world: it’s just connecting the dots between different industries and different disciplines, saying ‘Hey, that worked in this field. How can I get it to work in my own field?’” he said.

2. Don’t just read, take the time to review
To make sure you extract the highest possible value out of every minute you invest learning, Spartz suggests reviewing your reading materials on a space repetition schedule. Consistently review everything you want to remember one day later, one week later, one month later and then every six months in perpetuity. “You will forget 90 percent of what you learn unless you review it in a schedule similar to that. We are not neurologically programmed to retain large amounts of information without having significant review invested,” Spartz said.

3. Understand the roots of virality (going “viral”)
To understand the roots of virality, Spartz studied persuasion theory, network theory and social gaming companies like Zynga. He came to the conclusion that virality is just the online version of word-of-mouth marketing. “An easy way to make things go viral is to take things that have already gone viral and introduce them to another community,” he said. To better understand how to make viral content Spartz recommends reading Word of Mouth Marketing by Andy Sernovitz.

4. Test your content before publishing it
According to Spartz, it is OK to test content on a small audience. “For most population distributions, a sample size of 30 will get you to a 90 percent confidence interval,” Spartz said. Another way to test your content is to spread your budget and avoid putting all your eggs in one basket. Spartz refers to this strategy as firing bullets, not cannonballs. Shooting bullets first to make sure you are lined up will help you understand what will go viral. “Editors are never going to be as accurate as using the crowd like we do,” Spartz said.

5. Maximize your social media presence
Understanding Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm is the first step to social media success. This algorithm is important because it is responsible for deciding which content is worth showing to people. Because the EdgeRank algorithm happens to place a big emphasis on photos, Spartz recommends never hitting the share button without including a photo. This tip will increase the number of people who see your content (normally only 10 to 20 percent of your audience.) To ensure the algorithm recognizes your post as a photo, you must upload using the ‘Photo/Video’ button—the algorithm recognizes a link with a thumbnail photo as a link, not a photo.

6. Don’t be afraid to repost content
Twitter is an extremely transient platform. To combat it’s fleeting nature, Spartz advocates that relevant, timely and potentially viral content should be tweeted more than once. On the OMG Facts Twitter account they consistently tweet out facts multiple times. They even repost facts that have gone ‘super viral’ in the past on a continuous loop. Spartz has found that the click-through rate only drops slightly on the second round of tweets, supporting the theory that it is reaching a new audience. To get the most clicks Spartz suggests staggering the tweets: every 12 hours for tweets you will post twice and every 8 hours for tweets you are going to post three times.

7. Reverse engineer success
Once you have gotten something to go viral it is important to study how it happened. If you are still searching for success in the viral world, simply look to your competitors for help. Spartz uses sites like Compete, Alexa and BuiltWith to see the traffic other sites are getting, where it is coming from and the technologies these competitors are using to succeed. He also uses the WayBack Machine to look at data-driven sites, the changes they have made to their user interface and how these changes have influenced the success of these companies.

Those interested in learning more about Spartz can read our previous coverage of his media empire here. This post includes an overview of his early career, how he founded MuggleNet and recruited a team of freelancers to help him create viral content. We also share how Spartz unlocked the neurological key to cramming decades of experience into a short period of time, the importance of data testing and the findings of his on-going study on virality.

Filed in: Startup Community